Why does a 59-year-old woman want to endure knee-deep mud, leeches and snoring men to climb a mountain?
WHAT is that trumpeting sound?” I asked Pak Yusuf Aman, our guide. “Pak Belalai (Uncle Trunk),” he replied. The wild elephants had been searching for food near the base camp to Gunung Bintang mountain in Kedah.
We hiked up a small hill and someone shouted, “Elephants!”
About 10 metres away were two elephants. They were tearing up branches, beating them against their knees (to clean them) and then stuffing them into their mouths.
The bigger one caught sight of us and hesitated for a while. It started walking towards us and we sped off, down the hill. We were thrilled but feared it might charge if we came too close to it.
These trunked creatures exist at the foothills of Gunung Bintang (1,862m). My friend Alastair Bishop and I had followed a group of Malaysian Nature Society members to climb this place. The combined area of the Gunung Inas and Gunung Bintang Hijau Forest Reserves are extensive enough to be able to support viable populations of large wild animals – such as elephants. (Editor’s note: this area was the subject of controversy for illegal logging in 2012.)
The base for the climb is Ulu Sedim, which is also a spot for white- water rafting and bird watching. Gunung Bintang is part of the Bintang Mountain Range which stretches from the Thai-Malaysia border in the north to Taiping in the south.
We had arrived in the middle of the night at the village of Kampung Sungai Buloh to spend one night in an abandoned house. As I lay on the hard floor and listened to the snoring of men around me, I wondered what had inspired me to climb Gunung Bintang again?
We had to undergo training before this trip and I had carried a 10kg bag of rice up Penang Hill. Climbers usually carry their own sleeping bag, food, clothes and tent to the summit of mountains. I used to carry 15kg of stuff in my rucksack up a mountain, but being older now, I carry a lighter rucksack.
“What! You are 59 years old and still want to climb mountains!” commented someone.
Well, I have climbed Mount Kinabalu and Mount Kilimanjaro (5,896m) before and I have decided to climb as long as my old legs can still do it.
People who love climbing mountains and trekking in the wilderness have a certain mental and physical rigour. Many women instinctively recognise a certain feminine power in nature.
It takes us away from ceaseless, mundane routines and into our own wilderness. Thus, we can attain our own sense of sufficiency and freedom.
The first part of the trek was along an old logging road and we were under the hot blazing sun. The occasional bursts of orange Gapis flowers were a welcome sight. Bishop took a photograph of the Greater Cougal and Rhinocerous Hornbill.
We rested at Charuk Senyum and reached the first campsite after an energy-sapping hike of four to five hours. The Sungei Kerian waterfall at the campsite was a sight to behold. Tents were pitched up quickly and we bathed in the cool and refreshing waterfall.
Dinner was cooked and we had vegetarian soup and rice. There was a heavy downpour and the deluge of water transformed the waterfall into a miniature Niagara.
Part of the terrain during the trek up Gunung Bintang was rocky.